"Therefore, I will briefly give my recollection of 1983 and its aftermath.
Firstly, it must be remembered that the Eighth Amendment to Irish Constitution is the only amendment which originated in popular demand. There was no official appetite for it, and the FitzGerald government proposed an alternative wording drafted by the then Attorney General, the late Peter Sutherland SC which would have prevented a Supreme Court ruling finding abortion rights in the Irish Constitution but which would have allowed the Oireachtas to legislate for abortion. Fianna Fáil, joined by several Fine Gael TDs (we all remember Alice Glenn, Tom O’Donnell and Oliver J Flanagan, but there were more I don’t recall at present), some Labour TDs (Seán Treacy and Frank Prendergast I recall) and the late Neil Blaney defeated this and voted for the wording which the public accepted.
This was bitterly resented and within a year to eighteen months, linkage was made between the Pro-Life Amendment and the tragedies around the Kerry Babies case and the death of Anne Lovett in Granard. In 1983, The Irish Times was anti-amendment; The Irish Press and sister papers, though reputedly a Fianna Fáil-supporting newspaper, was anti-amendment; The Irish Independent, ironically supporting Fine Gael, took an editorial line in favour of the amendment, but most of its journalists opposed it (true of the entire Independent group). I can recall Des Rushe and John Feeney in the Evening Herald who was killed in an accident a couple of years later as among the few pro-life journalists at the time. The provincial press was different, and I believe the Limerick Leader took a robustly pro-life line. The statement by the Catholic Bishops was hardly robust and there were priests who opposed the amendment. However, at the time most people in Ireland went to Mass and the topic was certainly preached about. My own rural parish priest, I think, had the idea most of his parishioners would vote pro-life and said nothing. I think that the media bias reflected an establishment bias though. When the former Senator Mary Robinson ran for president in 1990, her opposition to the amendment was off-topic, as the Fianna Fáil TD for Wexford, John Browne discovered to his cost, but when she was elected, a very different message was taken. Mary McAleese, on the other hand, was pro-life in 1983 and anti-divorce in 1986 and she wasn’t forgiven until she asserted her liberal credentials after the 1997 presidential election.
In terms of the debate, I was probably an open door from the pro-life campaign’s point of view (I was old enough to see what was going on, but too young to vote), I was impressed not by religious arguments (not that I recall hearing any), but human rights argument and I recall William Binchey’s advocacy of the human rights of the conceived child was very convincing and I don’t recall any argument from a theological standpoint trumping this.
In 1983, I was a pupil in Synge St CBS in Dublin, where we had a few teachers who campaigned for the referendum. We also had a few that campaigned against it, but that’s another story which underlies the point that there wasn’t a totalitarian Church running Catholic schools. But I will concentrate on one of those in favour, Frank Burke, who was active in extra-curricular activities as well as teaching.
Mr Burke began teaching us religion just days before the referendum (this was on 7 September, a couple of days after the summer holidays ended), but he told us about an interaction he had with two past pupils he met in the street shortly before. The two lads told him they were going to vote no and he tried, without much sign of success, to persuade them otherwise. At this point a woman in the street interrupted and said she should be part of the discussion as she was the only one there who had had an abortion. She looked at the two young men and said that she could not understand why they would vote no. ...[Then he talked about the great trauma, and sometimes depression, that so many women feel after an abortion, and that these things are more known about and recognised now and hence it makes less sense for abortion to be more popular now.]"